After Hereditary, Ari Aster was already signifying some promise coming along the way for his sophomore feature and with Midsommar, he does so much more than live up to the promise that was headed his way. In many ways it’s also far more experimental than his previous effort, given the larger scale he’s made to work with in this case but he comfortably adjusts to the greater scope of this project and maybe that might also mean he’s also putting himself at risk of becoming too caught up even in his own ambition. There are many ways you can describe where one’s expectations will land before seeing Midsommar, because Ari Aster’s style of horror will only ever remain as divisive as ever – and to say the least, Midsommar will only reaffirm how strongly one feels about his work on either end of the spectrum. Will it even matter what you think of Hereditary coming into this? Perhaps, but I feel like I can already see Ari Aster turning into a giant inside his own league with that and Midsommar on his belt.
Dani (Florence Pugh) has experienced a tragedy in her family. Her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor), is reluctant to take her on a trip to Sweden with his friends Mark and Josh (Will Poulter and William Jackson Harper), who dislike her immensely, but Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), the Swedish friend in the bunch, sympathizes with her and suggests she come along anyway. When in Sweden, the friends arrive on time for a peculiar midsummer festival that takes place only once every 90 years, but as they start spending more time interacting with those participating, the nature of what takes place during the festival unravels itself to be something rather sinister as it turns out to be a pagan cult. Maybe everything looks so cathartic on the surface, especially with the involvement of the murderous cult but looking again at how Midsommar unfolds there’s also a more resonating tale of a fading relationship to be found here, and the ability to find comfort following a great tragedy. One can only rely on a filmmaker like Ari Aster to bring to the screen such cathartic portraits of what could bleed itself into everyday life but Midsommar also leaves me wondering how well has he been holding up too. It’s not something that I say lightly, but it makes more sense once you watch the film.
There was a part of me that also feared that what Ari Aster would have brought to the screen was nothing more than a film that turns a culture unfamiliar to our eyes into the villains, only to have found myself coming out of a poignant portrait of what it feels like to be at the center of a fading relationship where everything around oneself is so toxic too. Less so a film about a murderous cult, Midsommar also shows itself to be a film about being able to find comfort after having experienced such catharsis and trying to release yourself from the toxicity bred into one’s normal life. All of Christian’s friends, minus the Swedish Pelle are more often than not annoyingly ignorant of the cultural differences in a land that they’re not familiar with, but they also have their own interests which they put ahead of any sense of decency. Ari Aster doesn’t make the film so much about themselves trying to survive the bizarre festivities but rather what’s set to come their way for being every bit as ignorant and as self-interested as they are, and even if what’s coming their way may show itself to be a sadistic end, Aster places you within a twisted version of Dani’s mindset in order to show itself as a means of finding the release from your own troubles.
Compared to Hereditary, it’s easy enough to say that Midsommar shows itself to be a far crueler film but I nevertheless admire the ambition that he’s showing in his relatively short body of work thus far. There’s a lot to admire about what Aster makes of the film’s maddeningly long running time, which is never felt at any point during the movie, but also in the bright visual style contrasting what’s typical of the horror genre as well as the many tidbits of comedy laced within the movie. But even that is where the film opens itself to show something sinister, because seeing light in a horror film is almost like a welcoming sign – and the film’s colour palette goes to show that. Under all of that, it’s a film all about trying to find peace from the toxic impulses that have found their ways into our regular lives, which makes the palette even more tangible too because it still embraces that feeling of being able to find a sense of peace on the inside. For every bit as deceptive as Aster presents Midsommar to be, it all appears peaceful and beautiful for a reason, because it knows what it feels like to have achieved a sense of solace.
While many of Midsommar’s motifs are made fairly obvious whether they be the notion that the film was made as Ari Aster was going through a breakup or the lack of respect brought upon by American tourists, it still remains so oddly endearing too. In part because of Florence Pugh’s lead performance but also because of how Aster crafts her character with such care too. But noting how much of this film has also come forth from Ari Aster’s experiences with having recently endured a breakup, there’s also a certain point to where I wonder if Ari Aster himself is doing alright. Is his plight supposed to mirror that of Christian and his friends, whereas his former lover is given the spotlight through the form of Dani following her tragedies? Either way, the manner in which Ari Aster has crafted a tale of a love that was never meant to last never holds back on the long-lasting effects of the chaos that come forth when realizing the truth. Even under the cruelty there’s a case made for how empathetic Aster is for Dani’s own plight, which makes her journey all the more compelling.
I don’t know if Midsommar will convert those who aren’t fans of Hereditary into followers of Ari Aster’s style, but there’s still a great deal to admire on the spot. Even at a running time that nears three hours, Midsommar never feels as if it is near that long, which is one among many of its own best qualities but even as the cruelty of its indulgences into psychological terror can manifest into the worst things imaginable, there’s still a lot of empathy to be found. But even for as visually dazzling an experience as Midsommar presents itself to be, what makes it so terrifying is the notion that this all happens to be given to you like it were welcoming. The amount of ambition that Aster places on the screen in Midsommar will certainly divide audiences, but like Hereditary there’s a great deal to admire about how Aster crafts metaphors about personal failings into nightmares unlike anything else. He’s taken the term “date movie” to a whole new level with Midsommar, putting it lightly.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via A24.
Directed by Ari Aster
Screenplay by Ari Aster
Produced by Lars Knudssen, Patrik Andersson
Starring Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Will Poulter
Release Date: July 3, 2019
Running Time: 147 minutes